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Omani Designer Najla Al-Jamali Launches an Elevated Handbag Collection

Najla Zuhair

Mini Ella in black cowhide with nickel-plated hardware and Mini Diana in gray cowhide with nickel-plated hardware, US $215; AED 789 from the  Najla Zuhair Skin2Skin Collection modeled by Farnoush. Courtesy of Najla Zuhair

Ten years on from designing chichi bags under the brand name Jizdaani, Omani-born designer Najla Al-Jamali steps out with a new label called Najla Zuhair. Infused with Middle Eastern sartorial references and a fresh, contemporary spin, the breakout brand booked model Farnoush  who featured in the July/August issue of Vogue Arabia – for its Skin2Skin collection launch. gets the 101 on the collection and uncovers the story behind the design evolution from brand to brand.

How does your heritage contribute to your eye as a designer?
In our heritage, women have always focused on adorning themselves with ornate jewelry. Handbags are now a modern extension of that. So for example, the mini bags – while they offer a practical use, the inspiration for them was to be worn like jewelry. I have chosen quite bold metal accessories in different finishes; it’s partly cultural conditioning that draws me to such hardware. Pearls, which the GCC is very famous for, are a great source of inspiration and I keep getting drawn to feature them in my bags.

Describe the brand’s evolution from launch to relaunch.
I did a soft launch with three different styles of bags (a minaudière in leather with metal frame, a hard minaudière, and hard crossover leather bag) and used the feedback from the market over the course of a year to understand which direction to take the brand in. All three styles reflected different facets of my taste, styles, and materials that I like. The winner was the hard crossover leather bag, Ella. That was what I began to base a whole collection around and then we relaunched.

Najla Zuhair

Diana in rose gold python and ivory cowhide with 22-karat gold-plated hardware, US $665; AED 2,442 from the Najla Zuhair Skin2Skin Collection modeled by Farnoush. Courtesy of Najla Zuhair

Why did you choose Farnoush for the new lookbook?
The name of the collection is Skin2Skin so the concept for the shoot was to convey this with a minimalist aesthetic, focusing on the bags, and close-ups of a model. Farnoush was the perfect fit for the shoot as her striking features and beautiful skin tone really complement the collection. I’ve also admired her work for some time now so was excited to be able to work with her on this collection.

What type of lifestyle does the Najla Zuhair client have?
The Najla Zuhair woman likes to have fun with fashion yet does this with elegance and class. She is well traveled, career-driven, and family orientated. She takes pride in her look and likes to invest in classic styles that transcend seasons.

Najla Zuhair

Mini Diana in black python and cowhide with 22-karat gold hardware and Mini Diana in black python and cowhide with nickel-plated hardware, US $265; AED 973 from the Najla Zuhair Skin2Skin Collection modeled by Farnoush. Courtesy of Najla Zuhair

Which bag from the new collection are you most proud of?
Ella, without a doubt. Although, I do like the mini Diana too, because it can be worn in many ways, even as a waist bag.

What advice would you give to aspiring designers from the region?
Aim your designs to the taste of a global market rather than focusing on the purely regional taste. You will invariably capture the regional customer’s eyes in doing so but, more importantly, you open up to the rest of the world. I would also focus on quality and differentiation. Create something unique that customers may not have seen before.

Najla Zuhair

Ella in old rose and gray python with gray cowhide and gunmetal plated hardware, US $715; AED 2,626,from the Najla Zuhair Skin2Skin Collection modeled by Farnoush. Courtesy of Najla Zuhair

What do you carry in your mini bag?
My credit card, ID card, and some cash.

Describe the brand in three words.
Elegance, class, and simplicity.

What’s next?
I’m going to continue to work on establishing a strong regional presence with an eye on going further afield. In terms of the collection, I’m working on more mini accessories and developing new styles and possibly experimenting with shapes for next year.

Najla Zuhair is available online at Etoile Boutique in the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai; Larishka, Beirut; Cream, Beirut; and Dar Al Aseel, Muscat, Oman.

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